Summer Journals

There is so much more to write about in the summer!

Writing in a journal is wonderful in the summer because there is often so much more to write about! Swimming, vacations, gardening, the county fair, church picnics, camping . . . all these topics give my children plenty of writing ideas for their daily journal entries. In the summer, when other schoolwork isn’t demanding, a chance to write is a nice interlude. I like to use the quiet time after lunch, when the littlest children take their naps, as a daily journal writing time for the other children (and myself). If your children have a full and busy summer schedule, this natural break in the day is restful and refreshing.

For kindergarten students, just a sentence or two on wide (5/8”) lined paper is sufficient. If your child has difficulty forming the letters correctly, you can write his sentence in yellow marker so that he can trace over the letters in a easy-to-hold fat pencil. If he can form his letters correctly most of the time, then just print his dictated sentence on scratch paper for him to copy onto his journal page.

As children develop, they will be gradually advance to creating their own sentences without your help in letter formation or spelling. I provide a spelling dictionary so my children can look up words on their own and thus be independent in writing their own journal entries by 6 or 7 years old. A spelling dic­tionary is simply a small booklet arranged alphabetically with a short list of words most commonly used by beginning writers. There is also room for your student to add other words he uses frequently. This tool can really help a young writer become quite self-reliant. You will always need to go back and help your child correct errors to make journal writing a good learning experience, but as they grow, those errors get less and less frequent. My older children use pencil or erasable pen to write their entries. Erasable pen makes them feel grown up but still allows for mistakes to be corrected.

The lines on the paper are important. Start a 4–5-year-old on early handwriting paper that has 5/8” high spaces and  a dotted half-line. By the time your child is 6 years old, he will be able to write on 5/8” without the dotted half-line. A 7-year-old can write on 1/2” lines. Around 8 years, your child will begin to write cursive rather than print his journal entry. By 10 years old, he can use standard 3/8” wide rule notebook paper. If you want to preserve your children’s writing for years to come, do not choose newsprint writing paper that will yellow and disintegrate before they reach adulthood.

I like to use paper that is blank on the top half of the page for my children under 10 years old, as they enjoy illustrating their writing every day. Older children can write on lined paper and insert blank pages for drawing whenever they want to. We keep our pages in 3-ring binders. I like my children to remove the page that they are writing on because they have better penmanship when they are not struggling to position their hand around the rings in the binder.

To preserve your summer journal, make the covers on cardstock, illustrating and often add their photo on the front cover. Then I take their journal to the print shop and have them bound with a comb or plastic spiral binding, which only costs a few dollars. I put a plastic sheet over the front cover before it is bound if there is a photo there. This makes a very nice book that the children love to show their grandparents when they come.

Even if you do no other schoolwork this summer, do keep those daily journal entries coming. It gives children a regular chance to express themselves, it sharpens and maintains their penmanship skills, it provides a record of their summer adventures, and it exercises their English, grammar and spelling!  A wonderful daily habit!


I think as moms we often live in the zone of “tomorrow”. There is just so much to do today and we are getting tired.  Tomorrow is always there, promising more time and new energy.  Like Annie, it seems we bank our hopes that the “sun will come out tomorrow”.

The bad news is that tomorrow just keeps hopping ahead one more day, and some very important things keep getting scheduled for “tomorrow”.

Louisa had asked for cooking lessons for several YEARS!  (Gosh, it hurt me to write that!  Could I really have put her off for years?!)

I had some grandiose ideas:

  • -recipe cards in a cute flip-top recipe box
  • -little 3-ring-binder that we add one recipe at a time as she learned to cook
  • -vocabulary terms
  • -discussion of cooking utensils and equipment
  • -healthy treat recipes that we invented together
  • -a syllabus and a plan with weekly hour lessons where we focus on quick breads, then soups, salads, breakfast foods, etc.
  • -fun, hands-on nutrition lessons
  • -a cooking class with friends

. . . ah, need I go on?

Dreaming, dreaming!

Better to do a little than nothing at all. If we wait to pull things together and do them up right, then very often NOTHING happens.  It is scheduled for that ever-fleeting “tomorrow”.

So, one day when she was 10, I called Louisa in from play and said, “I want you to follow the recipe and make Cabbage Banana Salad for dinner.  I’ll help you if you need me to.”  Nothing grandiose.  No organization or cute recipe cards needed.  Just spur-of-the-moment, practical stuff.

She didn’t feel confident but the salad got done and a little bonus is that the other family members gave her some kudos for it.  And another bonus is thatI got a direly needed reminder to myself that it doesn’t have to be done exactly right as long as it is generally edible.  She felt good about her effort!  Next day I had her make Broccoli Tree Salad.  And the following, it was Spinach Salad. Eventually I assigned her a weekly “dinner night” in which she planned the entire meal and had it ready on time.

These were not the cooking lessons I dreamed of giving her. . . boo hoo!  But my spur-of-the-moment hands-on lesson was realistic, I could manage itright then.  Little by little, day by day, she learned and made the metamorphosis into the capable cook she is today!

Don’t wait for that elusive tomorrow.  Let the sun come out . . .today!


You Go First

The world is getting rude.

Sometimes my ears yearn for those soft and fluid words that show our humanity: our belief in Christ and the worth of a soul. The virtues of unselfishness and patience. Ah, words of kindness . . .

Print them out and post them on your bathroom mirror. Practice saying them while you are in the shower, until they sound convincingly polite and loving. Use them all day long, as much as you can. Embrace them and make them part of your vocabulary. Expect your children to do the same. Teach your littlest toddler to say, “You go first” instead of “me first”.

You go first.

How can I help?

What would make you most comfortable?

It’s my fault.

It’s okay—I have time.

Let me help you.

Thank you.

No worries!

I’m so sorry.

Don’t stress, it’s fine.

Excuse me.

It’s okay.

You go first.

These tender words will reap you a harvest of gentle feelings, appreciation, and love towards each other.

Ah, sweet civility!

Indispensable Math Facts



Math facts! Those stalwart, foundational facts that carry us through our lives, making us able compute things in our head at the grocery store and figure out the cost of a tank of gas. We need them! Our kids need them! Let’s give it our best to teach them to our kids, making their experiences with math much easier.

I heard a Calculus teacher at the university explain that most of the errors he saw on his student’s test papers were not problems in forgetting a math formula. They were simple math fact mistakes that made their answers wrong! Math facts must be learned, and learned to mastery in order for math to be “fun” or “easy” for children.

When should a mom start teaching math facts? I think just as soon as children are able to grasp the concept using hands-on objects. If you set up 2 blocks and add another 2 blocks and your child can conceive of the concept of addition, it’s time!

How? I am not a flashcard fan. I don’t like drill. But I do love math games that make computation part of the play, like Sum Swamp or Muggins. I like the games that roll dice, and have the player add up the sum (or subtract or times or divide it) and use that number to advance so many spaces.  You can make your own games with just a pair of dice.

Setting the table is great for mental math practice. My kids, as they were growing, used to recite, “We have 9 in our family and Daniel is gone and that makes 8 and Mark is at work and that makes 7 and Emily’s friend is staying for dinner and that makes 8.”

As children progress in learning their math facts, you can play a fun game we made up called “Gotcha”. Each player has a stack of number cards face down in front of them. (You can use Uno cards, or write your own numbers on index cards.) Players both flip a card at the same time, and the first player to say the answer wins both cards. Once the cards are depleted, measure the stacks side by side, and the player with the highest stack wins the game. You can use this to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication or division facts. When I play with my daughter Louisa, I clap my hand down on the table 3 times softly before allowing myself to answer. This evens up our ability level and gives Louisa a chance to answer before I whip her!

Multiplication Songs

Multiplication facts are great to music!  It’s really hard to forget them once you’ve driven around town running errands with them playing on your car CD player.

When I teach times tables, I always start with the “9′s”. They are the easiest! Here are two tricks to get you started:

Hand Me the 9′s

Hold your hands out in front of you. Now look at the math problem: let’s say it is “9 x 4″. Bend your 4th finger and take a look. Starting on your left hand, how many fingers do you see before the bent finger? “3″. How many fingers remain after the bent finger? “6″. The answer to the problem “9 x 4″ is “36″. For the problem “9 x 6″, you would bend down your 6th finger, and see the answer: 5 fingers before the bent down finger, and 4 fingers after = 54. Try it with a few numbers and you’ll get actually see the answer in your fingers.

Magic Digits

Another trick for learning the “9 times facts” is the realization that all “9 times” problems have an answer in which the digits add up to 9. Look at the “9 times” answers below:

9 x 2 = 18

9 x 3 = 27

9 x 4 = 36

9 x 5 = 45

. . . and so forth. Do you see that in every answer, adding the two digits will equal “9″. In “9 x 3 = 27″, adding the digits of the answer (“2 + 7″) will equal “9″.

To get the first digit of the answer, just look at the number being multiplied by “9″. In the case of “9 x 3″, look at the “3″. Now count back by one. “3″ counts back to “2″. That is the first digit of the answer. Write down “2″. Now, to get the second digit of the answer, you just have to find the number that adds up to “9″. In this case, “2″ plus “7″ makes “9″, so you have figured out both digits of the answer!

Hoping to make math fun!

May I recommend:

Homeschool with a Baby

Homeschool with a baby? Yes, it presents about the same likelihood as taking a family vacation to Mars, teaching your dog to talk, or abolishing Santa Claus. Depending on the temperament of your baby, and the number of non-reading children who need instructions read to them during homeschool— you are in for one unique experience. This is tough stuff!

Given a choice of every Fisher Price toy ever manufactured, my darling nine-month-old Louisa won’t give them a second look. Instead she somehow wheedles her way up onto one of our laps as we sit at the school table. Before anyone can bat an eye, she has lunged into the coin box we use for math with great gusto. Nickels and dimes are flying everywhere. Then, even though we all frown and make spitting sounds so she definitely knows better, she eventually sneaks one in her fat little cheeks. Frantically, we promptly scoop up all the coins and before I can get the lid on the box, she has dumped the crayons and is grinning with bright blue crayon stuck in between her two little budding teeth. Why can’t the girl just play with baby toys while we do math?

On the other hand, having a baby around (even during homeschool) is sweetness and pure delight! What a refreshing perspective they bring to education. After all, their every move is to learn to master and manipulate and explore the world around them. They crave learning! They work at it constantly and never seem to need a recess from it. My little one is trying to learn to take her first step. Does she moan and complain about it? Of course not. She tirelessly persists day after day until she has mastered the skill. Learning is exciting! What a perfect example of the correct attitude towards education!

One homeschool lesson I have learned well: babies just don’t stay little. I know from repeated experience that this is just a very brief time and we want to cherish every delightful moment. Her learning is just as important as the rest of the childrens. Besides, it really makes math more fun!

Shouldn't You Be in School?


What do I say to people who ask my kids, “Shouldn’t you be in school?” What do I answer my neighbors, friends, and my own mother? I’m ill-prepared for the confrontation or even accusations that may come from some people, thinking me negligent for not sending my children to public school. How do I answer a stranger or a neighbor who might not really understand…or care? Or do I even bother trying?


The question will certainly come to you as you are out and about with kids during the school day. Know that your children will soak up your attitude. I never try to hide the fact that I homeschool from anyone, from the librarian to the store clerk. I volunteer the information and follow it up with how blessed we feel! I am on my own one-person campaign to change the world’s perspective of homeschoolers!

When someone asks my kids why they aren’t in school, I jump in and answer for them (as I think it is unfair for others to impose their prejudice on my children) and I say, “We are so lucky because we homeschool, and have so much fun together! We love it and are learning so much!” and the kids look up and smile. Or, I say, “We homeschool and I feel so happy to be with my best friends learning—they are so smart! And they teach me so much!”

As my children have grown, I hear them answering in a similar way to those awkward questions, and expressing their enjoyment of being homeschooled. It is really hard for people to have a hurtful comeback to that kind of confidence and enthusiasm. Attitude really is everything!

Best success!


Art: What to Teach?

Fine arts are often the first to be cut from public school curriculum when the budget gets tight. We want our children to be cultured! Art is a big part of cultural refinement, but do we start? Basically, 1) doing art and 2) enjoying and learning from art that was done exceptionally well over the history of our world.

Art Expression

Doing art is just that: experimenting with different mediums (crayon, chalk, paint, clay, etc.) to create something beautiful that conveys a message, meaning or mood. This is the “fun” art that children love and do so spontaneously, without any fear of censure. Almost all children love doing art!

As children grow up, our job as a mother is to protect that wonderful, free-flowing creativity that knows no embarrassment. This is done by our attitude, and also by protecting our children from criticism of others. Rejoice in what your children create! Be positive. Work along-side your children on your own art, so that you are their mentor in being spontaneous, not self-conscious or self-critical. Seek your children’s feedback in improving your own artwork, and give your children small doses of kind, careful feedback and instruction (after lots of enjoyment, praise and positive comments).

Don’t save “Art” for a special class. We use daily journal writing to help my children learn to write and express themselves in our homeschool, and this provides a time to sketch or draw daily to express themselves too. They write on paper that has a blank half page on the front so they can illustrate what they write. This habit promotes that ease and lack of embarrassment that enables artistic expression. It also frees them from the encumbrance of words! Do you know how much easier it is to draw the cave entrance than to describe it in words?! Both skills make a literate person.

There are many “how to draw” books available. Teach your children the basic skills while they are young, just like you teach them phonics. Once children are given the tools (either to read or to draw), the practice over the years just perfects those skills.

Art Appreciation

Who is Mona Lisa? Part of being culturally literate is to know the works of the great masters of the art world.

To plan your “Great Artists” class, start with a list. Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh and Raphael are great artists that you will find ample information about. I like to introduce Mary Cassatt because she mostly drew children, and Winslow Homer for his exciting outdoor scenes. For older students, you may want to teach by art movements or period. There is so much (too much!) information on the internet!  You’ll find color reproductions, plus many books on the market and in the children’s section of the libraries to help you too. Take one artist at a time: learn about his life and look at his great works. This can be a once-a-week 45 minute lesson per artist or you can delve deeper. Read commentaries on his most famous work. Try to replicate the artist’s style in a project in homeschool. This method is exciting and memorable to a child. I’m glad to learn it now, as an adult!

If you want an easy course already set up for you, try Discovering Great Artists which couples learning about the artist with instructions for an art project (in the artist’s style) to do yourself. Look at some color reproductions from the internet or books, and this course is wonderful and easy for mom to pull off without too much effort. It is geared for elementary-aged children, but can be used as a framework for 8th-12th grade by creating more detailed art projects and going into more depth in the study of the artist.

Another course I have used with  my children and truly appreciate for teaching children to recognize great artists is the Child Sized Masterpieces program.  Children learn art in a very

hands-on, “do touch” these paintings way with postcard-sized masterpieces.


For “doing” art, nothing beats Scribble Art. It has every imaginable art or craft project, and is great for all ages!  This book alone will keep your children enjoying all the art projects you need.


If you are looking for an excellent “how-to-draw” book, may I recommend my favorites:



Making Friends


We joined a homeschool coop which is great and I love it. They only meet for 2 hours or so on Friday mornings, though, and then for fieldtrips once a month. Of course, there is no guarantee that the kids in my daughter’s class will be at the fieldtrips. So, how do your kids make friends? I didn’t want her to go to public school, but with homeschool it doesn’t seem like she’ll make friends as easily. She’s very introverted.


Plan a playdate! Choose a friend in her co-op that you both like, and invite her to your house for a playdate once a week for free play. If the friend’s mother is reluctant to add one more thing to her schedule, offer a teaching time such as: “we are going to do arts/crafts class every Tuesday from 3 to 5 pm”. Most moms are more likely to commit if they feel there is educational value involved and they don’t have to teach it.

You are involved in a Friday co-op, so a playdate on Tuesdays would be ideal to break up the week. You can also call to make sure the friend is going to the field trip too, or invite her along if her mother is not planning to attend.

If you feel your daughter needs more social contact, then arrange one more playdate per week with another friend. Playdates plus co-op and a field trip should keep her happy.

Don’t overestimate the public school’s ability to socialize. Just being with other kids is not enough. They can call her names, make fun of her, and teach her bad words and habits. If being in contact with other people was all it took to socialize a person, then our prisons would be great places to become socialized! True socialization comes from associating with those who can model good behavior, share true values, and love you.


Go Exploring: the Best Education

Open the door and let your children go out exploring today! Give them each a little sack, and tell them to put their treasures in it. Better yet, go along with them, and be the “sack holder”. Smell all the blossoms. Listen to the birds. Look for butterflies. Observe the clouds. Pick up the prettiest rocks you find. Consider your children better educated for it.

“A child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, animals to pet, hay fields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets—and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his or her education.”
—Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank lived until 1926 (77 years old). He was a botantist and developed more than 800 varieties of plants, including 113 types of plums and prunes, as well as the freestone peach, Shasta daisy, Elberta peach, Santa Rosa plum, and most noteworthy, the Russet Burbank potato, the common potato we all use. (McDonald’s fries are made exclusively from these potatoes.) In a speech given the year of his death, he said, “I love humanity, which has been a constant delight to me during all my seventy-seven years of life; and I love flowers, trees, animals, and all the works of Nature as they pass before us in time and space. What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature . . .”

Spelling Clues


My daughter Louisa (15)

English is a beautiful language! It is the language of the Kings James Version of the Bible. It is the language of Shakespeare. Then, why—oh, why can’t we spell?

Over the years of teaching my 7 children to write, I wonder if perhaps I have seen nearly every misspelling known to man. Tomorrow, friends, though, a lot . . . these common words can be quite challenging. I don’t claim to any system of success, but I do know that giving kids a memory clue can help a great deal! Here are just a few of the clues I have discovered that help my kids spell better:


If you break this word down into the original two words—to morrow—it is a lot easier for kids to remember. I tell them, “We are looking to (towards) the morrow (next day).” Once you realize the meaning, you aren’t tempted to double the m which is the most common misspelling.

I say, “A friend is a friend to the end”. Circle the word end within the word friend. Once a child sees the word end, that word is generally mastered.


though-dough + rough-tough-enough
Though the dough
Is rough
and tough enough,
We’ll still have bread.

These crazy words are all spelled the same, but not pronounced the same. If you can teach your child the ough spelling, then this little chant will keep things straight.


I teach this goofy letter combination by drawing a big eye around it:

Now these words are easier to spell and remember:
sigh, nigh, light, night, sight, fight, might, tight, right, fright, blight . . .


a lot, all right
These are both two words! Now, you have it! Don’t combine them into alot or alright. Those are misspelled!


We go to get her to be together.
to get her = together
Pronounce this word to your children and they’ll spell it right: to-get-her


There’s a rat in separate. Can you see it?

Whenever you begin to write the word separate, say the little sentence and write a rat and you won’t misspell it!


here, there
Here and there are places. If you are not here, you are there. The word here is included in the word there. Once you can see the word here, it is easy to spell there!